The Case for Letter Writing

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Want to become a better writer, but you don't know where to start? You should start by writing letters! Click here to find out why.
Sometimes the inspiration and wisdom you need to get you motivated enough to sit down and put words to your thoughts will come from the unlikeliest of sources. In my case my mini “aha! moment” came while reading The Perfect Letter by none other than the Bachelor Franchise host himself, Chris Harrison. *Gasp.*

In the novel the main character, Leigh, is giving a speech to an audience of hopeful writers. She is supposed to provide them with the guidance and encouragement they will need to someday impress an editor like herself.

Fresh off of the success of her latest acquisition, a novel entitled, “The Perfect Letter,” the topic of her speech is about none other than the lost art form of letter writing. She argues that novels are really just letters “from a writer to a reader,” and it’s implied that taking the time to perfect writing a letter will help improve your writing overall. The supporting argument? 
“The art of the letter is the art of finding your voice, of revealing the most hidden parts of yourself to another person, of bridging distance and time and even death to tell something that’s so important the person receiving it simply has to read it.”
This argument came as a surprise to me. During my undergraduate career as an English major, never once did I hear the suggestion that I should perfect the art of letter writing.

Instead, my professors encouraged us to dabble with flash fiction and short stories. After all, a novel is just a longer, more detailed version of the two. Right?

After reflecting on all of my yet to be adequately started short stories and the flash fiction that went nowhere, I wonder now if perhaps Harrison is actually on to something.  Here are three ways I think letter writing could be beneficial to aspiring writers:

Letters are Less Intimidating than Short Stories  

Short stories are shorter than novels, but they still contain so much. You have to worry about crafting realistic dialogue and enough backstory that your reader will have an idea of how you got to this point. There is so much to think through and if you are a thinker like I am this could be the obstacle that prevents you from actually writing your story! The letter allows the writer to pour out whatever it is that they need to pour out. Sometimes context isn’t even entirely needed. You just sit down and write.

My Self-Editor Takes a Chill Pill

We’ve all been there. You have this “great idea,” so you sit down to write something really quick. Before you know it an hour has gone by and you’re still trying to find the right words. You’ve rewritten the same sentence over and over again and yet it still isn’t quite right. At this point you can barely recall the point you were trying to get across in the first place. I don’t find myself struggling as much for words when I’m writing a letter to a friend or someone else that I care about because I’m not as concerned that they are going to pick apart my every word. I’m not worried they are going to judge me. I have something to say so I just say it. If I were to practice writing more with the absence of my pesky self-editor then perhaps I would practice enough to actually improve my writing.

Letter Writing Allows Me to Discover and Share My Unique Voice

When I allow my self-editor to “get lost” that leaves me with the ability to discover what my written voice sounds like. I can start taking risks and experimenting with various aspects found in other forms of writing such as descriptions of places, better story development and potentially dialogue and eventually, who knows, maybe I’ll get around to writing the next great American novel.

Does anyone out there still write letters that you actually give to another person? How do you think writing letters could improve your writing? 

Books mentioned in this post:
The Perfect Letter
Author: Chris Harrison
Genre: Contemporary Romantic Fiction
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